Deuteronomy 31
Pulpit Commentary
And Moses went and spake these words unto all Israel.
Verse 1. - And Moses went; i.e. disposed or set himself. The meaning is not that he "went away" into the tent of teaching, as one of the Targums explains it (London Polyglot, tom. 4. p. 377), which does not agree with what follows; nor is "went" merely equivalent to "moreover;" nor is it simply redundant; - it intimates that the speaking was consequent on Moses having arranged, disposed, or set himself to speak (cf. Exodus 2:1; Joshua 9:4; Job 1:4).
And he said unto them, I am an hundred and twenty years old this day; I can no more go out and come in: also the LORD hath said unto me, Thou shalt not go over this Jordan.
Verse 2. - I am an hundred and twenty years old this day. When Moses stood before Pharaoh he was eighty years old (Exodus 7:7); since then forty years had elapsed during the wanderings in the wilderness. I can no more go out and come in; I am no longer able to work among and for the nation as I have hitherto done (cf. Numbers 27:17). This does not conflict with the statement in Deuteronomy 34:7, that up to the time of his death his eyes were not dim nor his natural strength abated, for this is the statement of an observer, and it often happens that an individual feels himself to be failing, when to those around him he appears to possess unabated vigor. There is no need, therefore, for resorting, with Raschi and others, to the expedient of reading "for" instead of "and" in the following clause; as if the cause why Moses could no longer go in and out among the people was God's prohibition of his going over Jordan. This is simply another and collateral reason why he had now to retire flora his post as leader.
The LORD thy God, he will go over before thee, and he will destroy these nations from before thee, and thou shalt possess them: and Joshua, he shall go over before thee, as the LORD hath said.
Verses 3-6. - But though Moses was no longer to be their leader, he assures them that the Lord would fulfill his engagement to conduct them to the possession of Canaan, even as he had already given them the territory of the kings of the Amorites; and he therefore exhorts them to be of good courage and fearlessly go forward to the conquest of the laud (cf. Deuteronomy 1:21; Deuteronomy 10:3).
And the LORD shall do unto them as he did to Sihon and to Og, kings of the Amorites, and unto the land of them, whom he destroyed.
And the LORD shall give them up before your face, that ye may do unto them according unto all the commandments which I have commanded you.
Be strong and of a good courage, fear not, nor be afraid of them: for the LORD thy God, he it is that doth go with thee; he will not fail thee, nor forsake thee.
And Moses called unto Joshua, and said unto him in the sight of all Israel, Be strong and of a good courage: for thou must go with this people unto the land which the LORD hath sworn unto their fathers to give them; and thou shalt cause them to inherit it.
Verses 7, 8. - Moses, having in view the appointment of Joshua as his successor, also encourages him to go forward on the strength of the Divine promise. Thou must go with this people. This is a correct rendering of the words as they stand in the Hebrew text. The Samaritan, Syriac, and Vulgate have, "Thou shalt bring this people;" but this is probably an arbitrary correction in order to assimilate this to ver. 23. And thou shalt cause them to inherit it; i.e. shalt conduct them to the full possession of the land.
And the LORD, he it is that doth go before thee; he will be with thee, he will not fail thee, neither forsake thee: fear not, neither be dismayed.
And Moses wrote this law, and delivered it unto the priests the sons of Levi, which bare the ark of the covenant of the LORD, and unto all the elders of Israel.
Verses 9-13. - Moses turns next to the priests and the elders, and to them he commits the Law which he had written, with the injunction to read it to the people at the end of every seven years during the festival of the year of release, viz. at the Feast of Tabernacles (cf. Leviticus 23:34), when they appeared before the Lord. At the end of every seven years (cf. Deuteronomy 15:1). The Law was committed to the priests and elders, not merely to preserve it in safe keeping, but that they might see to its being observed by the people; else why commit it to the elders whose it was to administer rule in the nation, as well as to the priests who alone had access to the ark of the covenant where the Law was deposited? Moses "entrusted the reading to the priesthood and the college of elders, as the spiritual and secular rulers of the congregation; and hence the singular, Thou shalt read this Law to all Israel" (Keil). By the Law here is meant the Pentateuch; but it does not necessarily follow that the whole of the Pentateuch was to be thus read. As the reading was to be only once in seven years, it may be concluded that it was not so much for the information of the people that this was done, as for the purpose of publicly declaring, and by a solemn ceremony impressing on their minds the condition on which they held their position and privileges as the chosen people of the Lord; and for this the reading of select portions of the Torah would be sufficient. The Feast of Tabernacles was appointed as the season for the reading, doubtless because there was a connection between the end for which the Law was read and the spirit and meaning of that festival as a festival of rejoicing because of their deliverance from the uncertainty and unsettledness of their state in the wilderness, and their establishment in a well-ordered state where they could in peace and quietness enjoy the blessings which the bounty of God bestowed. When all Israel is come to appear before the Lord (cf. Deuteronomy 16:16). Thou shalt read this law (cf. Joshua 8:34; 2 Kings 23:2; Nehemiah 8:1, etc.).
And Moses commanded them, saying, At the end of every seven years, in the solemnity of the year of release, in the feast of tabernacles,
When all Israel is come to appear before the LORD thy God in the place which he shall choose, thou shalt read this law before all Israel in their hearing.
Gather the people together, men, and women, and children, and thy stranger that is within thy gates, that they may hear, and that they may learn, and fear the LORD your God, and observe to do all the words of this law:
And that their children, which have not known any thing, may hear, and learn to fear the LORD your God, as long as ye live in the land whither ye go over Jordan to possess it.
And the LORD said unto Moses, Behold, thy days approach that thou must die: call Joshua, and present yourselves in the tabernacle of the congregation, that I may give him a charge. And Moses and Joshua went, and presented themselves in the tabernacle of the congregation.
Verses 14-23. - After nominating Joshua as his successor, and assigning the keeping of the Law to the priesthood and body of elders, Moses was summoned by the Lord to appear with Joshua in the tabernacle, that Joshua might receive a charge and appointment to his office. At the same time, God announced to Moses that after his death the people would go astray, and turn to idolatry, and violate the covenant, so that God's anger should be kindled against them, and he would leave them to suffer the consequences of their folly and sin. In view of this, Moses was directed to write a song and teach it to the people, that it might abide with them as a witness against them, rising up, as songs will do, in the memory of the nation, even after they had apostatized from the path in which the author of the song had led them. Verse 14. - The tabernacle of the congregation; properly, the tent of meeting (cf. Exodus 33:7; Exodus 39:32). May give him a charge; may constitute him (צִוָּה; cf. Numbers 27:19; "and constitute him in their sight," Gesenius), appoint and confirm him in this office.
And the LORD appeared in the tabernacle in a pillar of a cloud: and the pillar of the cloud stood over the door of the tabernacle.
Verse 15. - The Lord appeared... in a pillar of a cloud (cf. Exodus 33:9; Exodus 40:38; Leviticus 16:2; Numbers 12:5).
And the LORD said unto Moses, Behold, thou shalt sleep with thy fathers; and this people will rise up, and go a whoring after the gods of the strangers of the land, whither they go to be among them, and will forsake me, and break my covenant which I have made with them.
Verse 16. - Behold, thou shalt sleep with thy fathers (cf. 2 Samuel 7:12; Psalm 13:3; Psalm 76:5; Daniel 12:2; Matthew 27:52; John 11:11; 1 Thessalonians 4:14). "The death of men, both good and bad, is often called a sleep, because they shall certainly awake out of it by resurrection" (Peele). Go a whoring (cf. Exodus 34:15; Judges 2:17) after the gods of the strangers of the land; literally, after gods of strangeness of the land; i.e. after gods foreign to the land, as opposed to Jehovah, the alone proper God of the land he had given to them.
Then my anger shall be kindled against them in that day, and I will forsake them, and I will hide my face from them, and they shall be devoured, and many evils and troubles shall befall them; so that they will say in that day, Are not these evils come upon us, because our God is not among us?
Verse 17. - I will hide my face from them; will not look on them with complacency, will withdraw from them my favor and help (cf. Deuteronomy 32:20; Isaiah 8:17; Isaiah 64:7; Ezekiel 39:23).
And I will surely hide my face in that day for all the evils which they shall have wrought, in that they are turned unto other gods.
Now therefore write ye this song for you, and teach it the children of Israel: put it in their mouths, that this song may be a witness for me against the children of Israel.
Verse 19. - Write ye this song. This refers to the song which follows in next chapter. Moses and Joshua were both to write this song, Moses probably as the author, Joshua as his amanuensis, because both of them were to do their endeavor to keep the people from that apostasy which God had foretold.
For when I shall have brought them into the land which I sware unto their fathers, that floweth with milk and honey; and they shall have eaten and filled themselves, and waxen fat; then will they turn unto other gods, and serve them, and provoke me, and break my covenant.
And it shall come to pass, when many evils and troubles are befallen them, that this song shall testify against them as a witness; for it shall not be forgotten out of the mouths of their seed: for I know their imagination which they go about, even now, before I have brought them into the land which I sware.
Moses therefore wrote this song the same day, and taught it the children of Israel.
And he gave Joshua the son of Nun a charge, and said, Be strong and of a good courage: for thou shalt bring the children of Israel into the land which I sware unto them: and I will be with thee.
Verse 23. - And he gave, etc. The subject here is God, not Moses, as is evident partly from ver. 14, and partly from the expression, the land which I aware unto them; and I will be with thee (cf. Exodus 3:12).
And it came to pass, when Moses had made an end of writing the words of this law in a book, until they were finished,
Verses 24-29. - After the installation of Joshua, only one thing remained for Moses to do that all things might be set in order before his departure. This was the finishing of the writing of the Book of the Law, and the committing it finally to the priests, to be by them placed by the ark of the covenant, that it might be kept for all future generations as a witness against the people, whose apostasy and rebellion were foreseen. Whether this section is to be regarded as wholly written by Moses himself, or as an appendix to his writing added by some other writer, has been made matter of question. It is quite possible, however, that Moses himself, ere he laid down the pen, may have recorded what he said when delivering the Book of the Law to the priests, and there is nothing in the manner or style of the record to render it probable that it was added by another. What follows from ver. 30 to the end of the book was probably added to the writing of Moses by some one after his death, though, of course, both the song in Deuteronomy 32, and the blessing in Deuteronomy 33, are the composition of Moses (see Introduction, § 6).
That Moses commanded the Levites, which bare the ark of the covenant of the LORD, saying,
Verse 25. - The Levites, which bare the ark; i.e. the priests whose business it was to guard and to carry the ark of the covenant; "the priests the sons of Levi," as in ver. 9. According to Numbers 4:4, etc., it was the Kohathites who carried the ark on the journey through the desert; but they seem merely to have acted in this respect as the servants or helpers of the priests, who alone might touch the ark, and by whom it was carefully wrapped up before it was handed to the Kohathites. On special occasions the priests themselves carried the ark (cf. Joshua 3:3, etc.; Joshua 4:9, 10; 6:6, 12; 8:33; 1 Kings 8:3).
Take this book of the law, and put it in the side of the ark of the covenant of the LORD your God, that it may be there for a witness against thee.
Verse 26. - In the side of the ark; at or by the side of the ark. According to the Targum of Jonathan, it was in a coffer by the right side of the ark that the book was placed; but the Talmudists say it was put within the ark, along with the two tables of the Decalogue ('Baba Bathra,' 14); but see 1 Kings 8:8.
For I know thy rebellion, and thy stiff neck: behold, while I am yet alive with you this day, ye have been rebellious against the LORD; and how much more after my death?
Verse 27. - I know thy rebellion; rather, rebelliousness, i.e. tendency to rebel. In Numbers 17:25 [Numbers 17:10], the people are described as בְנֵי מְרִי, "sons of rebelliousness;" Authorized Version, "rebels."
Gather unto me all the elders of your tribes, and your officers, that I may speak these words in their ears, and call heaven and earth to record against them.
Verse 28. - Call heaven and earth to record against them (cf. Deuteronomy 32:1). These words; the words of his charge, and especially the song he had composed, and which it would be the business of these officers to teach to the congregation.
For I know that after my death ye will utterly corrupt yourselves, and turn aside from the way which I have commanded you; and evil will befall you in the latter days; because ye will do evil in the sight of the LORD, to provoke him to anger through the work of your hands.
Verse 29. - Ye will utterly corrupt yourselves; literally, corrupting, ye will corrupt (הַשְׁחַת תשׁחִתוּן, sc. דַרֵכֵיֶכם); i.e. your ways (cf. for the phrase, Genesis 6:12). The latter days; the after-time, the future, as in Deuteronomy 4:30; Numbers 24:14, etc. The work of your hands; the idols they might make (cf. Deuteronomy 4:28). By some, however, the phrase is interpreted of evil deeds in general

And Moses spake in the ears of all the congregation of Israel the words of this song, until they were ended.
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